Film: Take the Money and Run
Crime has never been this silly.
On December 1, 1935, Mrs. Williams Starkwell, the wife of a New Jersey handyman, gives birth to her first and only child. It is a boy, and they name it Virgil. He is an exceptionally cute baby, with a sweet disposition. Before he is 25 years old, he will be wanted by police in six states, for assault, armed robbery, and illegal possession of a wart.Take the Money and Run
—The opening narration
(1969) is a Mockumentary
co-written by Woody Allen
and Mickey Rose, and marked Allen's full-fledged directorial debutnote
. It chronicles the life of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain Protagonist Virgil Starkwell
and his wife Louise. Through exclusive interviews with his family, friends and teachers, we learn more about Virgil’s past
, and his love of crime
and the cello.Take the Money and Run
was a monumental turning point in the shaping of the mockumentary; while earlier mocumentaries
attempted to film a fictional story and pretend it was true, Money
went out of its way to emulate the style of documentaries at the time, even hiring veteran narrator Jackson Beck to serve as The Comically Serious
narrator. Scenes play out with individual gags strung together by a thin story, with plenty of Visual Gags
and Inherently Funny Words
being used to deliberately rid the movie of any dramatic tension.
The film received critical acclaim, cementing Woody Allen
’s Auteur License
that he has enjoyed for the rest of his career. Allen would revisit the theme of Stupid Crooks
in Small Time Crooks
Take the Money and Run provides examples of:
- Appliance Defenestration: Virgil's cello is thrown out a window, presumably by someone fed up with his horrible skill with the instrument.
- Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Several criminal characters are given rap sheets that follow this pattern. At the very beginning, the narrator says that Virgil is wanted for "robbery, attempted murder, and illegal possession of a wart". Later, as Virgil assembles a gang to rob a bank, the narrator reveals what each of them has served time for—one was "bank robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, murder, and getting naked in front of his in-laws"; another was just "dancing with a mailman"; the third was "arson, robbery, assault with intent to kill, and marrying a horse".
- Blatant Lies: Virgil tells Louise he’s in the Philharmonic when he first hits on her. Virgil later notes that she probably saw right through his ruse because he didn’t know who Mozart was.
- Brandishment Bluff: Virgil carves a bar of soap into the shape of a gun and paints it black with shoe polish in order to escape from prison. He gets caught out, though, when it starts to rain during his escape and his "gun" turns into a bunch of bubbles.
- The Comically Serious: The narrator.
- Determinator: Virgil simply cannot give up crime or escaping from prison. The last shot of him is carving a bar of soap to look like a gun. Again.
- Dreadful Musician: Virgil, according to his cello instructor, had “no concept of the instrument...he was blowing into it.” Virgil does, however, end up being good enough to play... in a local marching band.
- Eat the Evidence: When going over plans to rob a bank with his accomplices, Virgil says he'll show films of the bank they will be robbing. Virgil announces that they are going to see them just once... and to destroy the evidence, they're going to eat the film afterward.
- Film Felons: Virgil stages one bank robbery to look like a movie shoot, complete with a camera and a very eccentric man as "the director".
- Identity Amnesia: After getting hit in the head with a baseball at a Washington Senators game, Virgil's grandfather thinks he's Kaiser Wilhelm. Cue Stock Footage of the real Kaiser.
- The Illegible: A bank robbery is foiled when tellers can't read Virgil's hold up note. It sparks an argument throughout the entire bank over whether he wrote "gun" or "gub", "act natural" or "abt natural."
- Incredibly Obvious Bug: Virgil devises a way to take a hidden camera into a bank he is scouting out for a planned robbery. It's hidden in a loaf of bread, which Virgil repeatedly holds up to his face as one would an ordinary camera.
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Pretty much the only reason we’re rooting for Virgil is because he keeps getting beaten up and humiliated in a Charlie Brown-esque way.
- Informed Judaism: Virgil’s father seems to think so about his son; he says he tried to “beat God into him” but it didn’t work.
- Inherently Funny Words: "Gub".
- It Will Never Catch On: A meta-example. Roger Ebert's lukewarm review has this air, casting doubt on Allen's future success.
- Like an Old Married Couple: Virgil’s parents are constantly bickering throughout their interview. Justified because they’re an old married couple.
- The Not So Harmless Punishment: Played with. A pretty nasty punishment turns out to be even more harmful. As the narrator states, "Food on a chain gang is scarce and not very nourishing. The men get one hot meal a day... a bowl of steam." This is shortly followed by the inverse of the trope, a man who didn't give a good day's work is hauled into another room, and the warden takes Virgil over to show him "what he's got to look forward to". In a parody of a classic scene from I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, we see the shadow of what appears to be the man tied to the ceiling being whipped by another guard (and sounds of whipping and the prisoner wincing seem to confirm this), but after Virgil and the warden walk through the door, we find out that the guard is whipping the prisoner's shadow, instead.
- Parental Neglect: Virgil was raised by his grandfather because his parents were never around for him. At least, until said grandfather got a Tap on the Head.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Virgil’s parents refuse to show their faces on camera when interviewed, but hide their identities with Groucho Marx glasses.
- Punishment Box: Virgil is locked in one of these at one point... with an insurance salesman.
- Rouge Angles of Satin: "Apt natural, I've got a gub."
- Running Gag: Virgil getting his glasses stomped on. It slowly escalates throughout the film, starting with some kid gangster, then a garbage man, then adult gangster, and finally a judge getting in on the action.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: All the time.
- It even becomes monologue dissonance at one point during Louise and Virgil’s Falling in Love Montage. The music is very appropriate, but it’s dubbed over with a speech from Virgil about how he knew he was in love because he was “slightly nauseous.”
- Stupid Crooks: Virgil can't ever commit a successful crime, and is usually foiled by stupid mistakes, like misspelling a holdup note.
- Technology Marches On: One of the film's big laugh lines comes when Virgil, bluffing his way through a job interview, is asked if he's "ever had any experience running a high-speed digital electronic computer", and answers in the affirmative, adding, "My aunt has one."
- Working on the Chain Gang: Virgil is sentenced to a chain gang after a failed bank robbery. At one point, his chain gang decides to make an escape. Hilarity Ensues.